Coming off a disappointing finish to the previous season when a team from the South dashed their Super Bowl hopes in overtime in the NFC Championship game, Vikings fans look forward to opening the new season with a road rematch of that still-all-too-painful-to-think-about contest. It's a chance for a small measure of revenge and also the first step in what fans hope will finally be the completion of the long march to a Super Bowl victory and redemption. I speak of course of the Vikings versus the Saints tonight, right?
Try September 12th, 1999 when the Vikings went down to Georgia to open the season against the Falcons, the squad that upended their Super Bowl express in the NFC Championship game the season before. The 17-14 victory in that opener was little consolation to Vikings fans, especially when their team went on to bumble and stumble to a 10-6 finish in 1999. A wild-card playoff win over the Cowboys was followed by a 49-37 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams in the divisional playoffs. A season that had started out with high hopes of taking care of the unfinished business from the year before ended in disappointment and frustration.
I fear the same sort of fate lies in store for the Vikings this year. One of the things that I still remember from that 1999 campaign was how the Vikings struggled in the pre-season, especially offensively, and how we were all told that it didn't matter because once the season started they would right the ship. Of course they never really did, even after replacing Randall Cunningham with Jeff George at quarterback after starting 2-4. I get the same vibe from this year's squad. Too much internal turmoil, too many injuries, and too many unanswered questions form a black pall that hangs over this team.
Throw in a very difficult schedule, a fragile starting quarterback, a still-not-ready-for-prime-time backup quarterback, and a coach whose incompetence is only matched by his ego and you have a football team that will be lucky to finish 10-6 this year. Even if they do make the playoffs, an early exit is almost guaranteed. Having said all that, I still believe the Vikings will find a way to beat the Saints tonight. Of course, the win will do nothing to ease the lingering pain from the NFC Championship loss, especially later this season when we realize that the window to the Super Bowl that was so wide open for the Vikings last year has now been slammed shut.
UPDATE: But what about this year's Super Bowl you ask? While the Vikings will not reach the big game in Dallas, their divisional rivals will. Yes, the roar WILL be restored and the Lions will make one of the biggest turnarounds in...
...Sorry. Had to try to inject a little humor here. In reality, it will be the Packers who represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. And when they get beat by the AFC Champion Ravens, it will make edition XLV my second favorite Super Bowl of all time.